FAO links smallholder farmers with agro-processors in maiden market symposium

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) organized the first ever market symposium in Malawi aimed at providing a platform for farmers’ organizations to interface with other value chain players including buyers, processors and input dealers.

Representatives of 32 farmer organizations, drawn from Kasungu and Mzimba districts, where FAO in collaboration with the Government of Malawi is implementing a Market Capacity Building Project for Smallholder Farmers, took part in the three-day event (26-28 June 2017) at Lisasadzi Residential Training Centre in Kasungu.

Eight agro-traders and input suppliers including an Information and Communication Technology service provider participated in the market symposium and held discussions with farmers, providing information on market opportunities including factors that determine supply and demand which affect prices.

In her remarks, FAO Representative in Malawi, Florence Rolle, emphasized the importance of building strategic partnerships between smallholder farmers and buyers. Rolle said she hoped that such viable relationships would translate into increased tangible household incomes and improved nutritious diets.

“It’s important for farmers to have strong partnerships with buyers so that they can get important information on prices and expected tonnage as required by the buyers. Extension is also key. Without a strong extension system it’s difficult to transform the agriculture sector,” said Rolle.

Malawi, is largely an agro-based economy, with over 80 percent of rural populations subsisting on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods. Women form 70 percent of this total rural agricultural workforce and they have a land holding capacity that barely exceed 0.5 hectares per household in most parts of the country.

However, despite the back-breaking toil, the majority of smallholder farmers face hurdles of low prices at the market due to lack of market information, poor record keeping, dysfunctional storage capacities and failure to operate in groups.

Collective marketing for increased incomes and nutritious diets

To ensure farmers get good prices at the market, Rolle thus urged smallholder farmers to consider embarking on value addition of their products, form groups to do collective marketing and constructively engage buyers to realize high incomes and nutritional outcomes.

“What is important for farmers is to diversify to ensure increased and sustainable incomes and nutritious diet,” she advised.

Director of Agricultural Extension Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Jerome Nkhoma, hailed the market symposium as an important step to engage in honest discussions with buyers on how to reduce problem of low prices farmers face at the market.

“Let’s take this symposium as an opportunity for us to find better markets. Let’s encourage ourselves to go into processing or value addition. Be in groups and ensure that your groups sign contacts with potential buyers to curb low prices. Contract farming is important to agree on prices at the beginning [of the cropping season],” said Nkoma.

Farmers lessons on pricing

Thandiwe Banda, a mother of three, revealed that the market symposium had opened her eyes on the importance of collective marketing as well as  the need to forge linkages with fellow farmers and potential buyers.

“I have realized that when you are in a group, you sell at higher prices because you have a bargaining power,” said Banda, 34, from Takondwera Farmer Field School in the Kasungu.

Her sentiments were echoed by Lloyd Msiska, a lead farmer from Bolokaposka village in Mzimba district, who committed to rally others farmers in his area to form groups, encouraging them to do value addition and keep records of their gross margins.

In his remarks, Joseph Mseteka, a Commodity Trading Coordinator at NASFAM – one of the organizations that participated at market symposium – reiterated the importance of farmers to form groups, know factors affecting commodities and bring quality products at the market to ensure higher prices.

Background of the market symposium

With financial support from the Government of Flanders, FAO in collaboration with the Government of Malawi is implementing a five-year Market Capacity Building Project for Smallholder Farmers in Kasungu and Mzimba Districts, under whose programme framework the market symposium was held. The project is in line with the Government of Malawi’s aspiration of achieving farmer-led agricultural transformation and commercialization by treating farming as a business. It was conceived to support smallholder-farming households to produce for the market and increase their incomes and improve nutritious diets.